Notes from the Digital Humanities Summer School, University of Oxford (DHOxSS), 14-18 July 2014

15 August, 2014

Here at the DCC, we regularly engage with researchers, research support staff and other professions dealing with research data.  With researchers, we discuss, advise and help them to understand the requirements, benefits and methods of digital curation, as specifically applied to research data.

But there is of course a reciprocal flow of knowledge required too: we need to understand about the daily practice of researchers - their methods, the materials they work with and produce - in order to better understand how comfortable researchers are with the notion of 'research data' as an element of their research practice, how research data is constituted in a specific discipline, and its potential for re-use.  As a relatively small team roaming around the sprawling space of contemporary research practice, events like the digital humanities summer school at Oxford (DHOxSS) offer a valuable opportunity to get immersed in the culture of a specific discipline or, in the case of DH, set of disciplines.

The DHOxSS Summer School offers a choice of specific workshop tracks which are supplemented by lectures open to all participants from established names (this year, Martin Roth of the V&A, UCL's Melissa Terras, the University of Victoria's Ray Siemens and many others).  I signed up to the 'digital curation' track for three main reasons.

Firstly, I was excited about catching up with the teaching team, who were all from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, the iSchool at the University of Illinois.  The work of Carole Palmer, Allen Renear and J Stephen Downie may already be familiar to readers of this blog as well as humanities scholars more widely.  They were accompanied by Megan Senseney, PI of the Digital Humanities Data Curation Institutes project, and Nic Weber, a doctoral student at the GSLIS. It was inspiring to hear the latest from the GSLIS and its digital curation and research data-related initiatives and projects, including the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS), and innovative collaborative research and training initiatives such as the HathiTrust Research Center and the DHDCI.

Secondly, I wanted to find out more about humanities-specific perspectives on creating and managing research data.  Our workshop group was a mixture of nationalities, areas of humanities scholarship and professional activity, and levels of comfort with the notion of research data. Getting to grips with some of the tools and methods that are intrinsic to research in areas such as literature, language, linguistics and history gave me a fuller picture of how these scholars work, where the research data is located in their workflows and how familiar they are with sharing, publishing and reusing it.

Thirdly, it's always valuable to see how other teams and organisations go about presenting the drivers, challenges and benefits of sustainable digital curation practice in the training context.  The Illinois team successfully balanced the drivers and expectations of the US research environment with international perspectives, mixed lectures with practical sessions and supplemented their teaching with relevant workshop sessions from Oxford's Bodleian Library, the Oxford e-Research Centre and the Oxford Internet Institute.  Some of these practical sessions went beyond 'digital curation' per se into practical experience of digital humanities research tools and methods, but this was very helpful for a better understanding of how data is formed and managed, and the points to consider when analysing, linking and representing data in humanities research.

It was pleasing to see DCC resources such as the Curation Lifecycle Model being introduced to a new audience, and satisfying to see the development of new or enhanced awareness of the value of research data and its potential as a research asset.  It's also really useful to witness the questions, doubts and objections raised by researchers of a particular discipline area when first getting to grips with research data and its curation, and observing which solutions make sense to these scholars.

Rich resources from the event are available via the @dhoxss twitter account.

Twitter hashtags provide wider narrative on the event as a whole at #dhoxss, and for the digital curation track at #dhcuration.

Laura Molloy. e: laura.molloy@glasgow.ac.uk